Pansy Nichols, public health official, the eldest of five surviving children of Marmion and Jennie (Campbell) Nichols, was born on April 4, 1896, in San Antonio, Texas. She attended public schools in Georgetown and Laredo. She graduated from high school in Georgetown about 1913 and taught in a Williamson County grade school for a few years. During World War I she moved to Austin to work for the United States War Department, then took employment with the Texas Tuberculosis Association in 1918 as an office assistant. In 1920 she became secretary to the child health education director. She became child health education director in 1921 and served in that position for the next ten years. She continued the association's Modern Health Crusade among Texas schoolchildren by producing a newsletter for Texas teachers that published stories and poems about nutrition and personal hygiene. Nichols visited with principals and teachers to see that information on healthful living for disease prevention was added to the curriculum on physiology.
When the tuberculosis association's executive director died in 1932, she took his place. She supervised the agency's statewide campaigns to enhance personal and public health education, increase tuberculosis detection, and persuade communities to build treatment facilities for citizens of all races. During her tenure the number of local affiliates grew from twenty-eight to ninety. Local chapters worked with the state association office to sell Christmas seals annually. The funds were used to purchase tuberculosis-detection equipment and build tuberculosis sanatoriums. In 1935 Nichols lobbied the Texas legislature to appropriate seed money for a state sanatorium for black Texans. Once the sanatorium was completed, black physicians in Texas requested improved training in tuberculosis control. Nichols enlisted several health agencies to help Prairie View A&M College establish a postgraduate institute in 1937. There, physicians took refresher courses addressing tuberculosis, maternal and infant health care, and syphilis. The Postgraduate Assembly was duplicated in other states and lasted until the Texas Medical Association opened membership to black doctors twenty-three years later. Nichols helped organize physicians and public health officials on both sides of the Rio Grande to form the Inter-American Medical Conference in 1943. It met twice before wartime travel constraints ended the collaboration. Still, Texas Tuberculosis Association campaigns involving Spanish-speaking health educators and practitioners influenced National Tuberculosis Association programs for Hispanics.
Nichols was president of the National Conference of Tuberculosis Secretaries in 1941. She served as president of the Southern Tuberculosis Conference in 1954. She also was appointed to the board of directors of the State Organization for Public Health Nursing, one of the few non-nurses so honored. In her tenure as executive director of the Texas Tuberculosis Association, she fostered cooperation between the larger urban chapters, which raised a greater proportion of the state association's funds, and the rural chapters, which typically had less adequate health facilities and greater needs for tuberculosis control than did major cities. She also succeeded in keeping the association's annual fund-raising campaigns separate from the United Way when that organization sought to incorporate the tuberculosis association into its own campaign in the 1950s.
Nichols resigned from the Texas Tuberculosis Association position in 1963. She devoted her retirement years to genealogical research and joined related organizations, such as the Daughters of the Magna Carta and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In 1986 a shoulder injury prompted her move to a nursing home. She died in Austin on March 23, 1991, and was buried at Austin Memorial Park.
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Austin American-Statesman, May 1, 1963. Williamson County Sun, March 27, 1991.
Activism and Social Reform
Health and Medicine
Public Health Officials
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: